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Monday, 26 January 2015

Labour identify £70m of cuts to the courts budget

Labour today sets out how it will make over £70 million of annual savings in the courts budget as part of its plan to cut the deficit every year and balance the books as soon as possible in the next Parliament. In the fifth interim report from Labour’s Zero-Based Review (ZBR) of every pound spent by government, Chris Leslie MP, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, outline how Labour will:
  • Raise an estimated £67 million a year by improving the collection of fines issued by the courts, a collection rate which has plunged under the Tory-led government. We will do this by, amongst other things, investing savings from the sale of judges’ lodgings into enforcement staffing.
  • Save an estimated £5 million a year in running costs from co-locating two-thirds of the remaining single-use county courts and magistrates’ courts on the same site.
  • Save an estimated £2.9 million a year from scrapping the use of the 15 High Court judges’ lodgings, the luxury overnight accommodation, including penthouse flats and Georgian townhouses, provided during lengthy trials across England and Wales, and instead providing accommodation for judges in cheaper hotels.
In addition, Labour will:
  • Raise an estimated £23.6 million from the sale of property as part of the co-location of two-thirds of the remaining single-use magistrates’ and county courts on common sites.
  • Raise an estimated £26.3 million from the sale of the publicly-owned judges’ lodgings, held by the Ministry of Justice, following a value for money review.
  • The proceeds of one-off asset sales from the Ministry of Justice will be used to help pay down the national debt.
  • The ZBR report on courts also identifies a series of wasteful measures under this government, including:
  • £51 million handed in redundancy payments for prison officers before a staff shortage led to many of them being re-hired.
  • £2 million to £3 million a month spent on temporary uniformed prison staff.
  • £19 million spent on lawyers and consultants during the government’s reckless privatisation of the probation service.
  • The risk of a bill for hundreds of millions of pounds for the taxpayer from the signing of highly unusual, decade-long contracts for probation services which will not be able to be altered without incurring substantial costs.
  • Labour will cut the deficit every year, and get the current budget into surplus – and national debt falling – as soon as possible in the next parliament.

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, 
Chris Leslie, said: “David Cameron’s government is set to break its promise to balance the books and get the national debt falling. The next Labour government will get the deficit and debt down, but we will do so in a fairer way and by examining every pound of spending. At this interim stage, Labour’s Zero-Based Review has identified over £70 million of annual savings in the courts budget, as we cut departmental spending in the next parliament in order to get the deficit down. And we will look at whether taxpayers would be better served by selling off the penthouse flats and Georgian townhouses, which are owned and maintained by the state for the exclusive use of High Court judges, and the proceeds used to help pay down the national debt. The abysmal record of Ministers allowing so many criminal penalties to go uncollected isn't just bad for justice - it's bad for our public finances too. A credible strategy to restore fine enforcement levels is long overdue.”

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, 
Sadiq Khan, said: “This document shows that Labour is taking tough decisions when it comes to finding savings in the justice budget. However, instead of the haphazard way the current government has managed the Ministry of Justice and its budget, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake and severely curtailing access to justice, Labour’s approach will be fairer. In these challenging financial times, we need to keep a firm grip on the purse strings, and that means taking a long hard look at the way we run our courts. If we’re to maintain the standards for which we’re renowned the world over, it’s only fair we look at using our court buildings more efficiently, judges sharing some of the pain, and addressing the failings in fine enforcement.”

Green MEPs welcome Syriza's election victory

Green Party MEPs Keith Taylor and Molly Scott Cato have issued a joint statement this morning after Syriza won yesterday’s General Election in Greece. The Greek Ecologist Green Party, part of the European Green Party, took part in a joint election campaign with Syriza, which now sees them join a left coalition government in Greece.

In a joint statement issued this morning by Keith Taylor Green MEP for South East England and Molly Scott Cato Green MEP for South West England, they said:

“The result of the Greek elections has shown that the people of Greece have taken a strong stand against the politics of austerity. Greens share the view of the new government that austerity is a failed model which has piled misery on the poorest while making the wealthiest even richer."

"This result shows that challenging business as usual politics can win the support of the people. In the UK we are witnessing a Green Surge, in no small part due to our anti-austerity agenda, and we hope the Greek election result marks the beginnings of ordinary people standing up to a discredited economic model and failing Governments across Europe.”

Boris Johnson joins with GLA members to host Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at City Hall

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson was joined by Members of the London Assembly, MPs, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and Holocaust survivors today at the annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at City Hall. The poignant ceremony commemorated victims of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, and was especially moving as it marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia. After the event was opened by Roger Evans, Chair of the London Assembly, the Mayor of London gave a reading from the notebook of a Jewish captive at Auschwitz, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis addressed the audience with a memorial prayer.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "Seventy years on from the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, today we remember the millions of people who lost their lives in both the Holocaust and in subsequent sickening acts of genocide. In the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, and as we face an increased threat to our own security, it is more important than ever that we stand strong in our beliefs of tolerance and freedom of speech, and learn from the atrocities of the past. London's success is built on the diverse communities who live here, and has long been a safe refuge for all those who are persecuted, with many thousands of Holocaust survivors making it their home. London will continue to provide this safe haven. We will not abide prejudice, and stand united against all those who threaten our peace and security."

Roger Evans, Chair of the London Assembly, said: "The recent heightened tensions have focused our minds firmly on past horrors. 70 years on from the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Second World War and 20 years on from the anniversary of the Genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia - we must keep the memory alive. In the name of all those who suffered historically and recently, we shall continue to fight bigotry, prejudice and intolerance to ensure such atrocities are not allowed to happen again."

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: "I am honoured to be attending the Greater London Authority's Memorial event with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and survivors from both the Holocaust and the Bosnian Genocide. Today we commemorate 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It remains essential to educate future generations about the atrocities committed, which remain a stain on the conscience of human history. The hatred and evil that inspired the Holocaust still exists today, which makes it all the more important to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive."

Those gathered also heard emotional accounts from Holocaust survivor Freda Wineman and Safet Vukalic, who survived genocide in Bosnia. 16 year-old Freda and her family were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1939, where she spent five years, before being moved to various other concentration camps including Bergen-Belsen. She finally ended up in Theresienstadt, from where she was liberated by the Russian army on 9th May 1945, only to discover that both her parents and one of her brothers had been killed in Auschwitz. Bosnian Muslim Safet Vukalic survived ethnic cleansing in Prijedor, Bosnia. His father and brother were taken by the Bosnian Serb army and transported to concentration camps, where they stayed from 1992-3. Having survived the atrocities there, they were eventually released, and Safet and his family re-located to the UK.

The ceremony also featured London schoolchildren, who presented their 'Lessons from Auschwitz' project, delivered by the Holocaust Educational Trust, and singer Rachel Weston, who performed a selection of Yiddish songs.

Poll shows Labour losing trust after Tory alliance

A new poll has shown that Labour is losing trust in Scotland because of its, informal, alliance with the Tories for over two years in the referendum campaign. The findings of the Survation poll question, commissioned by the SNP, show that 31 per cent of people are now less likely to trust the Labour Party in Scotland as a result of their decision to campaign alongside the Tories, compared to just 14 per cent who say they are more likely to trust Labour. Fifty per cent said no difference.

The poll is particularly bad for Labour in Glasgow, where 44 per cent of respondents said they are now less likely to trust Labour, compared to just 16 per cent who said they have more trust. There were similar findings in Central Scotland where 40 per cent of respondents said they are less likely to trust Labour, while just 12 per cent said they are more likely to trust the party.

Remarkably, nearly as many people who voted Labour in 2010 and 2011 said they were less likely to trust Labour because of their campaigning with the Tories as more likely. The findings of this poll add further weight to recent opinion polling showing support for the SNP substantially outstripping Labour. An Ipsos MORI poll for STV last week put support for the SNP at the coming Westminster election at 52 per cent, compared to just 24 per cent for Labour.

Commenting, SNP Deputy Leader Stewart Hosie said: "This poll is a disaster for Labour and for Jim Murphy, who worked hand in glove with the Tories in the referendum campaign - and people across Scotland haven't forgotten that. Labour are fatally wounded by their Tory alliance, and have clearly lost trust. Nobody buys Jim Murphy's ridiculous claim that he isn't a Unionist, after he spent the referendum campaign touring the country defending the Westminster system with the Tories."

"That just insults people's intelligence, and this poll shows the trust problem that Labour now have in Scotland. In the General Election, the one party that can be trusted to stand up for Scotland is the SNP." Mr Hosie added.

Labour Brent to cut tax for living wage employers

Labour controlled Brent Council are set to be first council in the country to cut business rates for firms paying Living Wage. The Labour party are not proposing to put this policy in their 2015 election manifesto, although the party point out they are committed to increasing the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020. 

Speaking at the launch of the first business rate discount scheme for employers paying the Living Wage in Brent, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves MP said: "I want councils across the country to follow Brent's lead by cutting business rates for companies who pay their staff a Living Wage. It's a brilliant idea to tackle low pay which is good for everyone - workers, employers and taxpayers.

"A Labour government will tackle low pay by raising the Minimum Wage to at least £8 hour before 2020, bringing in Make Work Pay contracts to get more workers paid a Living Wage and banning exploitative zero-hours contracts." Ms Reeves added. 

With the Labour pledge on raising minimum wage, the Tory leader, David Cameron recently accused Labour of proposing to "cut the minimum wage" by 2020 as the government say the minimum wage is projected to be £8.15 by 2020. Labour leader Ed Miliband has also promised to tackle abuse of zero-hour contracts by forcing employers to put staff on permanent hours after a certain time but he has not pledged to outlaw them completely.

The Green party is going much further than Labour and calling for the minimum wage of £6.50 to be immediately raised to the level of the living wage, which is £7.85 for everywhere except London, where it is £9.15. The Greens pledge that the different levels of minimum wage for young people and adults to be abolished, leading to a £10 minimum wage for all by 2020. The Greens said the rate should then be linked to living costs to ensure that it rises alongside inflation.

Raising the minimum wage to living wage levels would benefit an estimated 5.2 million people – 17% of the working population – and bring in a "fairer society where fewer workers are trapped in poverty pay conditions", the party says. The greens have also proposed a ban on zero hour contracts.

MPs demand fracking moratorium

Shale fracking should be put on hold in the UK because it is incompatible with our climate change targets and could pose significant localised environmental risks to public health. That is the conclusion of MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee who will attempt to amend the Government's Infrastructure Bill in Parliament today.

Committee Chair Joan Walley MP (Labour) said: "Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely. There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health. We cannot allow Britain's national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to be developed into oil and gas fields. Even if a national moratorium on shale drilling in the UK is not accepted there should be an outright ban on fracking in such special sites."

"The Government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people's homes without permission. This is profoundly undemocratic and Parliament should protect the rights of citizens by throwing these changes out when they are debated later today."

The report warns that only a very small fraction of our shale reserves can be safely burned if we are to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees. And that considerable uncertainties remain about the hazards fracking poses to groundwater quality, air quality, health and biodiversity. It points out that continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed the scope for fossil fuel energy by the time shale gas is likely to be commercially viable on a large scale.

I
nfrastructure Bill

The Committee is also calling for other changes to the Infrastructure Bill. Proposed changes to trespass law that would grant companies automatic right of access to land at depth should be removed from the Bill because they seriously undermine citizens' rights and are not supported by the public. Fracking should also be prohibited outright in nationally important areas such as National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, SSIs, ancient woodland.

The Committee is also insisting that:
  • Licences and permits must not be issued if commercial operators cannot demonstrate sufficient resources and insurances to cover full liability in event of pollution incidents.
  • Venting of methane emissions is unacceptable. Full containment of methane must be mandated in all fracking permits and permissions.
  • To protect groundwater a minimum separation distance - between the shales being fracked and underground aquifers - should be defined and mandated.

Monitoring and transparency

Current plans to allow fracking companies to handle the safety monitoring for fracking wells are also unacceptable, the report concludes. Independent monitoring must be conducted to ensure the public can have confidence in the results. Regulators must also conduct regular unannounced spot checks and audits of all fracking sites, and facilitate clear and accessible public disclosure of all monitoring data. Companies must be made to disclose - in an accessible way - all of the chemicals used in shale gas exploration and production, and the potential risks they pose. It is unacceptable that there are currently no monitoring requirements for decommissioned or abandoned wells.

Lib Dem tax cut benefiting 26 million people

8.3m families will benefit twice from the Liberal Democrat tax cut, new analysis has revealed. The Lib Dems say thanks to them increasing the personal tax allowance to £10,600, these families will on average be £1,330 better off each year. New research using HM Treasury's tax and benefit model shows that the Lib Dems flagship policy of increasing the amount that people can earn before they pay income tax is vital in creating a fairer society. Income tax cuts for working people were a top priority for Lib Dems when we entered the coalition in 2010 and one which the party say they are proud to have delivered for millions of people. 

In government Liberal Democrats say have 'fought tooth and nail' to deliver a tax cut worth £825 for more than 26m working people - something which the Lib Dems point out David Cameron said during the 2010 election debate on ITV it was not affordable. The party also note that Labour have voted against raising the income tax threshold at every opportunity since 2010. The Lib Dems say by raising the personal tax allowance to £10,600 they have lifted more than 3m people out of paying income tax altogether. As well as helping families make their money go further they say they're also lifting the lowest paid out of paying tax. 

The Liberal Democrats say that by April their tax cut will have helped:

  • 340,000 sales and retail assistants will no longer pay income tax.
  • 169,000 care workers and home carers will no longer pay income tax.
  • 162,000 cleaners will no longer pay income tax.
  • 136,000 catering assistants will no longer pay income tax.
  • 91,000 teaching assistants will no longer pay income tax. 

Commenting Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: "This shows that our Liberal Democrat flagship policy of dramatically increasing the amount that people can earn before they pay income tax amounts to the greatest revolution in the tax landscape for working people in living memory. Repairing our economy after the 2008 crash has been a daunting task. Tackling it, and tackling it fairly, was the main reason that we formed the coalition in 2010 and income tax cuts for working people are top of our fairness agenda. Recovering from the crash of the Labour years is a long process. There is a lot more to be done to fully repair the economy and to continue to get the financial pressure of families. That’s why we Liberal Democrats are committed to raising the personal allowance still further, to £12,500 over the next Parliament."

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: These figures underline like never before the sheer scale of the tax cuts delivered by the Liberal Democrats for working households across Britain. Many, including the Prime Minister, said it could not be done, but Danny Alexander and I have cut taxes for low and middle earners while pulling our country's economy back from the brink where it was left by Labour. And it's not over yet. The Liberal Democrats may have cut people's taxes by £825 but if we are in government again after 2015, we will cut them by a further £380 by raising the point at which you start paying tax to £12,500."